In “The Tempest” by William Shakespeare, there is a quote that reads, “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” Yet this year at Prudential Center, past is not prologue for the New Jersey Devils and their 2013 attendance numbers . Fan support is at an all-time high and for the Devils, who moved to New Jersey in 1982, a true home ice advantage.
Since moving from Colorado, the Devils’ highest yearly attendance came during the 1997-98 season, when New Jersey still played at the Meadowlands and drew 17,296. That is until this year.
In their sixth season at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, finding their footing in the previous five had been tenuous at times. From the start there is a huge saturation of teams in the metro New York area, not to mention the New York Rangers and New York Islanders competing for hockey dollars and eyeballs. Then factor in comments from Barry Melrose about the the neighborhood and couple that with the fact that the Devils had yet to advance past the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in the new building and perception becomes magnified as reality.
The Devils first season in Newark in 2007-08 saw them finish 23rd in average attendance at 15,564 or just below that of the defunct Atlanta Thrashers. Even with a bump to 15,790 in 2008-09, New Jersey again finished 23rd. In 2009-10 the team saw a slight dip in attendance at 15,535 but moved up in the NHL ranks to 20th. Then came the disastrous 2010-11 campaign, in which the club finished 25th, drawing just 14,775. Although the team did see a jump in 2011-12 to 15,397, still it had them at 24th overall.
Then something happened. Namely a deep playoff run. According to Forbes, in 2011-12, the Devils operating profit reached $3 million and accumulated an all-time high for revenue, pulling in $122 million.
One could say that success sells itself. Case in point, the 2013 campaign. Over a third of the way into the home slate (nine games), New Jersey is averaging an all-time high of 17,311 fans per contest. That ranks 19th in the NHL. While the Devils arena doesn’t fit as many in the upper echelon of attendance, they are drawing to 98.2% percent of capacity. Additionally, that ranks the Devils ahead of the rival Rangers, who are 20th at 17,200 per game, through ten games or 94.5% of capacity and the Islanders, who are 29th at 13,532 per game through eight home contests or 83.4% percent of capacity.
This trend which began during the playoffs a year ago, seemed evident to continue as the Devils Army packed the Island for their road opener and on other occasions as well. In fact that type of loyalty may have also helped give the AHL Albany Devils a bump at the box office in the early going, as they enjoy their best attendance figures since the 2005-06 season.
In an NHL with 17 of its 30 clubs drawing at or above capacity, the Devils appear to be back on track. A team with a fortified army of fans at its base.
Michael Gwizdala covers the New York Islanders for The Hockey Writers. Michael is also an Associate Producer at WNYT NewsChannel 13. Additionally, Michael was once a Media Relations intern for the AHL Albany River Rats. Michael is a graduate of The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY.